Since Shirley very thoroughly summed up last week’s class, I thought I would just write about parts of the class that really stood out to me. Learning about effective strategies for activist campaigns by looking at the Watsonville case study, we mapped out various methods to achieve our goals whether through education or an online campaign. While my group suggested using social media to organize activists, I realized that many of Stanford’s on-campus student groups opt for some form of an educational approach, such as guest lectures, as their first step towards gaining momentum in their movement. Hosting prominent speakers lends their message a sense of legitimacy, making them stand out. So with all these groups and their various messages to stop this and stop that, how does the public decide which cause to support? Which side’s argument should they believe?
An educational campaign introduces the basic facts behind an issue to allow the public to make an “educated” decision. Organizations believe that once the public knows the truth about the deleterious effects of pesticide use and monocropping on the environment, the general outcry and shock will pressure companies and the government to seek alternative methods of food production. These companies, the USDA, the EPA, were established to protect the people, yet they have bowed under the pressure of big companies, choosing to represent financial desires over the health and safety of the public. Despite various attempts to pass legislation that would remove this monopoly of control such as Proposition 37, the GMO food labeling initiative, big companies have maintained control over our choice and our decisions, telling us what food we should and should not eat. How can we make educated decisions about our food when we are presented one sided viewpoints from companies such as Monsanto? Therefore, through an educational campaign, all we can hope for is a public with an understanding of the entire truth and a desire for change.
Today, in class we started off by reading an article about the use of, methyl iodide, a toxic pesticide carcinogen that is used in fields near public schools in Ohlone, Watsonville. The pesticide is produced by a Japanese chemical company called Arysta LifeScience and has been associated with attention span problems, chronic breathing problems, and hyperactivity among students. The pesticide was first approved for use by the EPA in 2007, an action with strong public backlash. The major players fighting against it are: the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, The California Department of Pesticide Control, students groups, local unions, the Pesticide Action Network, and the United Farm Workers. These groups are all concerned about the health of the children attending the local school, who also get exposed to methyl iodide through their parents, most of whom are seasonal farmhands. Lately, a decision has been made by Alameda County Supreme Court Judge Frank Roesch to ban the pesticide in California on the grounds of it violating the Birth Defect Prevention Act.
We used this case study as a launch pad for discussing campaign strategies, theories, and targets through which we can reach our goal. We worked in groups to construct power maps of influential people we knew and could use to get in contact with Secretary Rodriquez, head of the EPA who might approve industry exemption from the methyl iodide ban. One group took an educational approach while another group took a business pressure approach.
After eating yummy mochi (thank you Grace), we transitioned in the larger ethical questions regarding community service and social change. Specifically, we looked at the power dynamics inherent in campaigns between special interest groups and powerful fund providers. We applied this theory to our own Stanford background, noting the potential dangers behaving like entitled Stanford students who know better than everyone else what should be done. We also discussed the problems with privileged disengagement, which basically refers to someone only dedicating a few hours into a project without really caring about the result because they have nothing at stake. In the example of the pesticide issue in Watsonville, we realized the importance of having accountability between the organizations with powers and funds and the actual people how live in those communities and breathe in the fumes everyday, but have no money or power. In this way, we learned how to use our social capital (a sort of “title” that comes from graduating from a university like Stanford) to affect positive change that is sensitive to the needs of the receivers of aid.
Finally, this related to the broader issues of ablesim, or discrimination in favor of able-bodies, and “allyship,” which refers to bring mindful of social hierarchies that form naturally as a result of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religious differences; and lending true, un-pretentious support to groups that don’t have the same democratic rights that you hold. This was an entirely new point for me, and one that made me think about times when I was in a position of power, and vice versa. When we help someone, we need to be mindful and sensitive of what they actually want, have tried, is important to them instead of just applying what we believe will best suit their situation (major take-away for the trip!).
Last Friday’s ASB Class was pretty cool, seeing the relationships of issues going on. Yuto covered the issues in the distinct areas, but I’d like to talk more about Monterey (my assigned area) because there are interesting economic tensions which are pulling at that fabric of the local community. The Williamson Act is being repealed, which had subsidized the property taxes of Monterey farmers, protecting them from the incredibly high property taxes (beach houses) and only taxing them for what the land could produce. The repealing of this act will drive out many small farmers and will make for fewer “new farmers,” strengthening the old generational farmers who pay low property taxes thanks to Prop 13. This creates a weird hierarchy of “old-money” farmers squatting on many hundreds of acres of land bought at a fortuitous time with low property taxes, and very few new farmers (such as small migrant worker families saving up for new land), potentially aggravating class tensions.
In addition, the shale oil deposits found in the Monterey Area, extending down to LA bring a new option for revenue generation to the table, but comes at the cost of the land that is becoming so expensive for the farmers. The oil extraction process includes pouring into the earth acid, which seems like a great way to damage that precious land.
Ultimately, these tensions (one pushing farmers out and the other pulling land towards oil companies) seem to spell trouble for the agriculture in Monterey, and maybe even for the ecosystem there, with the shale oil extraction. I found it a disturbing process to see the land being haggled over for resource pillaging, and also that this money game we’re all in has so much power to push and pull people.
yuto and shirley chatting
us being very happy about posters
pools last week. Below is a picture of a starfish I found. For the
trip, I learned about Barnacles and here are a few facts about them:
• Barnacles are encrusters, which means they are attached to a hard substrate
• They are suspension feeders and get food by rhythmically beating
their feather appendages to draw plankton
• They absorb O2 through their limbs and inner membrane
I recently saw this article about an ad aired during the Super Bowl which failed to acknowledge the immigrant makeup of the workforce in today’s American farms. This spoke to me because of the strong images I hold from childhood of seeing migrant farmworkers bent over vast fields throughout Watsonville and Salinas. While my mom insisted that our family stay with friends when the heather fields neighboring our house were sprayed with toxic pesticides she didn’t want us exposed to, these farmworkers made their living fumigating these very fields.
Growing up, I also noticed that much of the food I saw people eating in the predominantly low-income communities where farmworkers lived was low-cost, processed, and packaged. Yet in Santa Cruz, where I went to school, mostly caucasian, middle-class residents touted “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” bumper stickers and shopped for organic produce at farmers’ markets. When I learned about the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation that plays a big part in impacting how America eats, I began to understand some of why the cheapest foods were also the least healthy, given agricultural subsidies.
Overall, these disparities drove me to advocate for social justice around food systems. I was compelled by environmental concerns and human health components, and I wanted to act on the inequalities I witnessed by increasing access to healthy, affordable food. I felt blessed by the positive role food played in my life as a force for community and joy, especially through Jewish cultural traditions, and I wanted to make this a more widespread reality.
I’ve pursued this interest at Stanford through my academic focus in Human Biology and through various experiences (there are lots of links embedded below!)
Urban Adamah: I was one of 12 fellows building a portable urban farm in West Berkeley on a one-acre plot of land. We donated the produce we grew to a neighboring church and nearby health clinic, both of which served low-income community members.
City Slicker Farms operates urban gardens in West Oakland and helps community members build and maintain their own backyard gardens. I helped them tend their gardens by practicing IPM (integrated pest management, AKA washing slugs off veggies) and helped out with a backyard garden build!
U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee: After learning about the Farm Bill through the news, I actually got to work on it through my internship with Stanford in Washington! I attended senate hearings and briefings, wrote memos and reports, researched everything from Michigan beans to biofuels, and learned about food hubs on a trip to Virginia. I was constantly challenged to question my views as I heard from so many diverse stakeholders.
SEED: I worked with this environmental education organization in Cape Town, which operated school gardens across South Africa. My friend Hannah and I taught garden-based lessons.
ETH Zurich: I was one of 35 interdisciplinary, international students at a Swiss program on the world food system. We learned about everything from plant science to water footprints and visited a slaughterhouse and a Swiss chocolate factory. Then, my team of 13 worked with the head of a Jordanian NGO to design and build a rooftop aquaponics system that would mitigate food insecurity and water scarcity in Amman. Check out a video of the construction here.
Now, I’m taking a great class in the D. School focused on designing solutions to needs around healthy food access in East Palo Alto. AND I’m very excited to be sharing my passion with the class, exploring about the intersections between farms and oceans, and learning from the interests, experiences, and questions of our diverse students! After traveling the world to learn about these issues, it’s wonderful to return to my home community, where my interest in them was first sparked.
Last Friday at our weekly ASB meeting, we talked about social and environmental issues in the Santa Cruz and Monterey area. We each researched two issues before class, and during class we shared them and gathered them all graphically in the form of a map of the area! I was going to take a photo of the colorful maps before leaving class, but unfortunately I forgot.
I didn’t know much about the area, so I learned a lot during this session. Quick recap of the issues I remember:
Santa Cruz: Homelessness, Water desalination plant construction
Watsonville: Air pollution indoors in public areas
Salinas: Nitrate poisoning of water because of pesticides, inaccessible to education, lack of doctors, obesity
Monterey: Large oil reserve that could be used by tracking
Those are the big ones I can remember. That’s a lot of stuff! It was interesting to see how different each of the counties were, even though they may have been right next to each other.We discussed the so-called “lettuce curtain” that stops interaction between certain areas such as Salinas and Monterey.
As Maria pointed out, it is important to look at these issues from an economic standpoint as well – not just thinking about environmental justice.
I’m looking forward to actually going to the area over spring break to see these issues happening with my own eyes and talk to people.